Despite this Republican administration’s general willful ignorance of science, much less the conscious attacks on it, the Food and Drug Administration has done something praiseworthy: They’re taking a tougher “risk-based approach” to homeopathic products which, by definition, don’t help the people who take them because they’re fake medicine.
Under the new policy, the FDA will more carefully scrutinize these products, especially those sold to treat infants and children, those containing ingredients with significant safety concerns, such as belladonna, and those sold for serious conditions such as opioid addiction, heart disease and cancer.
“We respect that some individuals want to use alternative treatments, but the FDA has a responsibility to protect the public from products that may not deliver any benefit and have the potential to cause harm,” [FDA Commissioner Scott] Gottlieb says.
The Center for Inquiry, which urged the FDA to take stances like this during a public hearing in 2015, praised yesterday’s move while expressing some reservation on whether the FDA would enforce the new guidelines:
“Homeopathy is marketed as a ‘natural’ way to treat maladies, when in fact it has proven to be both ineffective and often harmful,” said [CFI’s Vice President and General Counsel Nick] Little. “As the FDA itself has recognized, taking tainted homeopathic products can cause illness. Patients who rely on homeopathy rather than evidence-based medicine often do so instead of seeking real medical treatment, and this can lead to serious long term harm or even death, especially in children, who have no choice in the matter.”
Said Little, “While we’re excited by this announcement by the FDA, we’re also concerned that they follow through.”
There’s good reason to be worried. While this is a necessary move, a lot of homeopathic products will still be sold to gullible customers who wrongly think they’ll be cured of whatever is ailing them as a result. While it’s right for the FDA to take action against products marketed to children or people with serious problems, the products sold to people with common colds or mild injuries won’t be affected.
No wonder the head of one homeopathic association wasn’t bothered by the FDA’s move.
Mark Land, president of the American Association of Homeopathic Pharmacists, said in an email that the group “shares the FDA’s commitment to protecting public health,” and noted the action “would not materially affect the vast majority of homeopathic drug products available in the United States.”
And you better take him seriously since he speaks on behalf of one member spread throughout the entire country.
The government doesn’t have to ban the products which, at best, do nothing. But responsible pharmacies should stop selling products which don’t help their customers. They’ll never do it because the financial incentives are too high, but it would be nice if companies like Walgreens and CVS took the option away from customers who might get the wrong idea or be misled by misleading packaging. If they want it, let them find it somewhere else.
(Image via Shutterstock)